I DO NOT OWN BSG OR DOLLHOUSE
Paul has been here at the Dollhouse for a month. Well, one month, three days, sixteen hours, and (he checks his watch) seven minutes not that he’s been keeping count, carefully marking the time since he’s sold his soul to DeWitt and her house of hell. He has a passing thought as to where Mellie is, before pushing it aside. Mellie doesn’t exist, never existed. Madeleine is her name, and Paul is not a part of her life. At least she’s free; he gave her her freedom, and he clings to that knowledge like a lifeline.
A cup of coffee seems like heaven about now.
When he pushes open the door to the handler’s ward room, he can feel the eyes on him. It’s nothing new. After the hell he went through back at the bureau with everyone staring at him like he was chasing his tail with the Dollhouse case, he’s used to feeling the scrutinizing gaze on his back; hell, even on his front. He pours himself a cup of coffee (it’s definitely better than the bureau, he has to hand that to them) musing about how he spent so much time trying to find this place and now can’t wait to find a way out—if only it were as simple as striding out the front door. He knows that if he makes one wrong move the Dollhouse can make him disappear forever.
Suddenly there’s someone alongside him pouring a cup of coffee as well. Shorter than him by a good half a foot--a new handler, he guesses because he knows he’s never seen this man before, but has a flickering flash of grey and brown and blue in his mind and the thought that he knows him from somewhere. He blinks once, twice. It’s the second time this week that he’s had this feeling.
The first time it hit him was three days ago. He’d just come back from one of Echo’s engagements and she had gone off for Topher to wipe every second of it out of her mind. As he made his way through the labyrinth of hallways, he passed DeWitt giving the grand tour to her newest addition. The young woman followed her through the halls with her hands planted firmly on her hips. There was an outward confidence there, a swagger even, but the way those green eyes darted every which way gave Paul the impression of a caged tiger. Besides, if she was really so confident, why would she need to come to a place like this?
Paul glances sideways at the newcomer; how long does he have before this guy hears all about the ex-FBI agent wandering their halls? He decides to cut it off at the pass and extends his hand. “Paul Ballard.”
The man turns to him. His shoulders shift uncomfortably, head tilting, there’s a flicker of something like recognition in his eyes.
Too late, apparently. The man grips Paul’s hand in a firm shake anyway. “Lee Josephs.”
“You’re British?” Paul raises an eyebrow, unsure of why that strikes him as out of the ordinary.
Lee raises his mug to his lips. “Last time I checked, yes.” The shiftiness is gone as quickly as they had appeared. “I just transferred here from London.”
It can’t hurt to wonder out loud. “Have you ever been to Los Angeles before?”
“No.” Lee moves towards the table, away from him; and it takes Paul a moment to register he is nodding his head for Paul to follow. “This is my first time in the States, actually.” So much for that theory. As he lowers himself into a chair, Lee places a magazine on the table that he’s been keeping tucked under his arm.
Paul steals a glimpse at the cover, before taking a seat next to Lee. “‘Mitochondrial Eve?’ You a National Geographic fan?”
“Not really, but I needed something for the flight.”
Paul picks up the magazine and flips it open to a photograph of skeletal remains. He’s never been interested in bones. He’s always been more interested in finding the people before they turn into this. When he sees the remains, however, he feels a short pang of sadness rip through him, like he’s lost someone he cares deeply about.
“It’s a fascinating article.” Lee assures him.
Paul is assured, but he puts it aside anyways.
Lee’s done this before. Hell, he’s forgotten how many times he’s done it. He has been a handler in London for six years. The women—and men for that matter—sitting in that chair, looking towards you with all that childlike amazement that is just as fake as the scripted words about trust. He knows they’re volunteers, but hell, if their life is so screwed up that they need to erase themselves for five years, that’s a lot of desperation at work. And when those five years pass, they get to start life anew, washed clean of whatever haunted them and drove them here in the first place; a prison term for the mind, the soul. It feels very Machiavellian, but Lee’s seen the look on an active’s face when they become themselves once again—there’s no truer peace in the world.
The programmer is peeling off the backing from an electrode when he walks into the room. “You know England is ahead of us, time zone-wise.” All he can see is Topher’s back blocking the view of whomever his new charge will be. “Now logically, that means you should be showing up early, not late.”
Lee casts a glance down at his watch. “I think I’d rather be eight minutes late than eight hours early.”
The technician makes an admonishing clicking noise with his tongue and shakes his head. “No appreciation for other people’s time. You need to work on your people skills, Leland.”
“Lee.” He crosses his arms over his chest.
“Yeah, sure.” Topher claps his hands together once and turns to face him with a large grin plastered on his face, eyes sparking like a child on Christmas morning. “New active. New handler. Very exciting. I love doing a first imprint it’s like… driving a new car,” he wafts his hand in front of his face, eyes closing as he breathes in some odor that Lee is completely unaware of. “Without the leathery smell.”
Lee feels the dull throb of a headache forming behind his eyes and shuts them as Topher turns towards his computer. He wants to just keep them shut until he can speak his words and leave until this active is called for an engagement, but a voice jolts him out of his thoughts. Oh well, it’s all part of the job.
“Hello.” It’s spoken simply but it has a quality that demands his attention.
Lee opens his eyes and for the first time sees the young woman (no, the doll
, he reminds himself) sitting in the chair. Her hair is long, gold waves that fall delicately about her shoulders. He can’t quite explain why but it looks completely wrong on her and he gets the fleeting thought that it’d look a lot better chin-length. She’s looking with that same stare that they all have, but for once he feels she’s looking at him, not through him. “Hello,” he ventures as he uncrosses his arms.
Her eyes lock onto his and her head tilts ever so slightly to the left. Her nose wrinkles slightly and a smile crosses her lips. “Your eyes are blue.” It’s a simple sentence, a simple observation, but stated with such conviction that he can’t help but smile back at her.
What is it about this place? There’s something about the look in her eyes. Like he’s seen it before, and not the tabula rasa stare, either. A chill runs up his spine and he shifts his shoulders, suddenly feeling uncomfortable in his own skin. It’s the same kind of unease that filled him when he was talking to Paul, only worse. Much worse. There is not a single logical reason for this vertigo. Déjà vu, he tells himself.
A few keystrokes click, and Topher interrupts. “Are you ready for your treatment, Bravo?" She nods; Topher clicks a button and the chair reclines, drowning her in blue light. Lee feels an inexplicable surge of unease in his stomach, but doesn’t have time to dwell on it before Topher starts talking, again. “Alright, Sparky, you know the drill.” With a wide sweep of his arm, Topher presents his blank canvas, Lee fights a frown, feeling unsettled as he steps forward.
Letting out a deep breath, he reaches out his hand and curls his fingers around hers. When his skin meets hers, he’s flooded with the strange awareness that this is something he’s wanted to do for a long time, despite never having said more than one word to this woman. But now it is time for him to speak and feels the need to really mean what he says. “Everything’s going to be alright.”
“Now that you’re here.”
He feels like he’s lost, losing air, floating weightless in space (not that he’d know how that feels); like he has something he needs to be doing, maybe even for her, but his head’s just a little too clouded to remember what. His brow crinkles slightly. “Do you trust me?”
He hopes he isn’t imagining it when she looks at him like he’s an idiot. “With my life.” She even sounds a little irritated, like she’s wondering why the hell he had to ask her.
Time must pass, because before he knows what’s happening, Topher says, “You can let go of her hand now.” Not wanting to feel the technician’s eyes on him anymore (it felt like he was studying you, trying to figure out how to reduce you into facts and data and cram your brain into one of those wedges), he pulls his hand away, and Bravo turns her gaze back to Topher.
“May I go now?” She sounds a little irritated with him too.
Topher just smiles pleasantly and says the line he’s said a thousand times. “If you like.”
“No cameras,” Echo says, dragging Paul into the blind spot. He can see the tension in her facial muscles as she fights to look as relaxed as possible.
“How are you feeling?” He asks, checking over his shoulder once to make sure no one can see them, no one’s in ear shot. Even if they’re in one of the few places the Dollhouse’s technology won’t find them, there’s nothing like another human to botch up a good secret.
“Like Wile E. Coyote dropped a piano on my head,” she says, a finger rubbing at her temple. “But without the fun accordion effect.”
“Didn’t Wile E. Coyote usually end up dropping pianos on himself?” It looks like Echo’s head is aching too much to come up with a witty retort, but he moves on anyway. “Does Topher know that his little “now you remember, now you don’t” trick isn’t working?”
It’s been like this since he got here—one of the reasons he’s been glad to be stuck with Echo. No other active was this aware; then again, no other active had been kidnapped and had a composite event triggered in their mind. At least it made his time here interesting, and it made him feel—for once—like he had someone on his side; he’s even come to think of her as an ally.
Echo shakes her head. “Thankfully, no. Getting better at juggling all the people crammed in my brain.” She shakes her head, like she’s battling back another personality clawing its way to the surface. He doesn’t know if that’s what actually happens to her but she’s never been able to really explain it to him. “No wonder people get sent to a psych ward for this.” Paul must look distracted. “Something on your mind?”
He’s about to start in on what’s been bothering him when what (or who, rather) has been consuming his mind rounds the corner towards them.
Paul tries not to blanch, and Echo slips easily back into a docile state. “I think I’d like to exercise now,” she says as Lee turns his gaze their way before moving on.
“Yeah, you do that.” Paul turns to trail the handler down the hall.
When Paul catches up to Lee, he’s on the balcony, elbows propped against the railing as he overlooks the tai chi class. Paul sees Echo moving in slow careful movements, looking like she’s one with the group. He follows Lee’s gaze and realizes he’s staring at the new one, Bravo.
“She’s yours, isn’t she?” Paul asks.
The way Lee jumps at the sound of his voice tells him two things. One, that the answer is yes. The second prompts his next question.
“You want to tell me what you’re really doing here?”
Lee raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you’re talking-”
“Let’s cut the crap, Josephs. You arrived, what, two weeks ago? A month after the Alpha debacle. Dollhouse Headquarters or Rossum or whatever just decides to send a new handler over to LA?” Lee’s looking away again. “They gave us some time, just enough so that it didn’t look suspicious, and then they sent a suit to keep an eye on how Adelle is running things.”
Lee’s hand runs over his mouth, down his chin, like he’d be stroking his stubble if he wasn’t so perfectly clean shaven whenever he showed up here. “The FBI lost a very valuable asset when they lost you.”
Paul shrugs noncommittally. “My boss didn’t seem to think so.”
There’s a hint of a smile on Lee’s lips. “Are you going to turn me in?”
Paul mirrors Lee’s position, leaning against the railing. “Nah. This place is built on secrets. What’s one more?”
Tonight, her name is Kristine, Kris for short.
It’s been two months and she’s had dozens of names since he met her, and she’s been everything from a debutante to a bounty hunter (and he can’t help but think the latter suits her better.)
Tonight she plays basketball. Right before the big playoff, the team’s star player had an unfortunate accident.
Lee never got the details, details are not his job. His job is to stay in the van, keep an eye on the monitors, and make sure she doesn’t get killed. There must be some serious money riding (maybe more) on this game if the manager is shelling out for a perfect, programmed player.
Kris tells Lee she’s a little bit nervous, new on the scene and all that. This is supposed to be a complete underdog victory for the team—unheard-of newcomer and rigged to win.
“Are you gonna be watching?” she asks.
Kris will never know why Lee’s so damned important to her, just like she’ll never know that she hasn’t been playing this sport since she was five—because she’s been programmed to believe it. He’s supposed to stay in the van, but it looks like he might just break her heart if he says no.
So he nods and she grins and then she goes off and wins the game, because that’s what she was made for.
In fact, the game was pretty exciting. Lee couldn’t get enough of watching Kris, Bravo, whoever-she-was glide across the court (she was practically flying) sinking shot after shot and hearing the crowd roaring—just for her. Even though he has no reason to, he feels proud as he waits by the back entrance to the arena.
“How was I?” She grins when she pushes the door open. Her hair is pulled back, slick with sweat; there’s a flush in her cheeks, and she looks like she’s glowing. He wonders—hopes?—if it’s adrenaline and nothing more.
The completely unprofessional desire to just put his arms around her and kiss her as a reply is surprisingly hard to fight. Finally, he gets himself under enough control to simply say, “You were amazing.”
The next bit happens too quickly. He thinks he sees a flicker of a shadow just around the corner. There’s a gunshot, he’s sure of that. And he’s very sure of Kris’s body on top of his as they hit the ground together. Someone really must not have liked the outcome of the game. Lee’s betting it’s the same guy who caused the unfortunate accident
. Before he can get his own gun from its holster, Kris has knocked the gunman’s feet out from underneath him; his head strikes the pavement with a sickening thud and Kris looks like she’s ready to go to town on his unconscious face. Lee’s pretty sure that was not part of the imprint she was given.
There’s a tear in the sleeve of her sweatshirt, red beginning to spread from the center, but she doesn’t even seem to notice. “Would you like a treatment?” he asks as he gets to his feet. He needs to get her back to Dr. Saunders ASAP.
Kris looks from Lee to the gunman back to Lee before she makes a grudging acceptance. “Fine, but when I’m done, I’m coming back and kicking his ass.”
He puts his hand on her shoulder and they head back to the van. In twenty minutes Kris will be gone, Bravo will be back. Topher will wipe the incident from her mind, and Claire will have her patched up, the scar removed like it never even happened.
“You’re not going to find it in there.”
They call her the Phantom around here.
“Dr. Saunders,” Lee says with a nod, clutching the file in his hands a little tighter.
“That’s just her physicals,” she says, motioning towards the folder. “I’m guessing that’s not what you’re looking for.”
Has he really been that obvious? Or maybe the Phantom just sees what the others don’t.
“You want to know why she came here.” Claire sits at her desk, looking firmly up at Lee, the puckered lines of scars that cross her face highlighting the intensity of her gaze. “That information is classified. I’m sure you’re aware of that.”
“Very.” His voice is strained as he replaces the file on the shelf. London, LA, it’s really no different.
“There are tapes.” Of course
, he thinks. How could he have forgotten? He turns back to her with a raised eyebrow. She looks away from him. “Her name is Amy.”
“How much did you see?”
“Some. Adelle’s careful. She’ll never keep a complete file where someone can access it.” Saunders taps her pencil against the side of her desk. “It sounded like an accident. Someone died. Probably someone important. Definitely Bravo’s fault. Somehow it lead her here.”
She watches him as he replays her words in his mind. He could have heard this story before.
“I wasn’t looking
for hers.” Claire breathes; she seems to be talking mostly to herself. “Sometimes you just… want to know what happened before this place.”
That’s when he realizes—Claire’s tenure isn’t up.
Lee’s sure he’s seconds away from trying to rip out her throat. But instead he takes a deep breath, his hands curling into fists, and asks in a very careful voice for Adelle to repeat herself.
“You heard me the first time, Mr. Josephs.” She’s carrying herself, tight and closed off and it probably has something to do with the three Rossum Corporation suits—two of whom look more like muscle than executives—that are standing sentinel in the office.
“But it’s not legal
. You can’t just take someone’s body and sell it for someone else to wear like a… shirt
“Not legal yet. But Mr. Ambrose assures me it will be in only a matter of months.” Her voice is clipped and strained and does not sound assured in the least. “And until that time, operations will continue as planned. That is part of running a clandestine operation after all. The legislation is merely a formality.”
“I don’t give a damn what the sodding Rossum Corporation has to say.” And now he’s snapped, every last ounce of effort reserved for remaining rational and reasonable is transformed into utter rage. “They can’t do this. They cannot
take Bravo. She is still a person, she has a soul, and a contract that says she’s supposed to get her life back!”
Lee’s too busy straining against the suits (they’ve got him by the arms, now) to see the glimmer of a tear welling up in DeWitt’s eye. “She’ll never know she didn’t. That will be all, Mr. Josephs.”
“Alright, just breathe now. Come on.” Paul is following Lee’s tight pacing circles in the wardroom. He looks like a madman and the scary thing is that Paul knows exactly how he feels.
The Dollhouse says it gives people what they want, but they know the truth.
“This is murder
“Well, you’re talking. Talking means you’re breathing. Now just focus on the second part.” Paul grabs Lee by the shoulders, forcing him to stand in one spot. “You’re making me dizzy.”
“This is not uploading a personality for a job.” Lee is shaking in Paul’s grip. “This is not some dream made reality. This is not what she… not what they signed up for., They volunteer and five years later they go back to their lives
! Don’t you see, they’re killing her!”
“Yes!” Paul snaps, before he follows his own advice and lowering his voice once again. “I see. I also hear, and if you don’t want the entire Dollhouse to hear too, you’re going to stop yelling and start listening, alright?” And for the first time that hour, Paul is sure he’s finally gotten his attention. Lee nods and Paul releases his grip.
The door to the wardroom swings open, Echo slips inside and closes it quickly behind her. “Bedtime’s in ten minutes. I don’t have a lot of…” she trails off as her eyes fall on Lee, whose jaw has dropped slightly.
“She’s…” Lee blinks once. Twice.
“Yeah. Like I said. Secrets.” Paul turns back towards Echo. “You remember the plan?”
She nods. “I thought we were waiting for the right day.”
“That’s tonight,” he says.
Usually, as Chief of Security, you had a lackey watching the feeds. Tonight, however, Boyd is filling in, and he’s glad he served his time as handler. It made him used to sitting around watching monitors, sometimes even as long as three days, so one night didn’t seem like much at all.
It’s around midnight when it happens. In one of the actives’ bedrooms, one glass panel begins to slide out of place. Not much, just enough for the occupant to slide herself out. It doesn’t take long for Boyd to see that it’s Echo, especially when she seeks out the room’s security camera and locks eyes with him across the feed.
He should be wondering how she got out and how she knew he’d be watching. But all he can do is lean back in his seat, foot nudging against a clump of wires, thinking how unfortunate it would be if they were to lose the security feeds at that moment.
And the screens go blank.
What a catastrophe.
He should probably get Topher to come fix this, seeing how he’s the most technologically adept person in the building and he’s probably still awake at this hour. Besides, with the Rossum Corp executive still in the building he needs to at least pretend he was doing his job. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to take the long way to Topher’s office.
The recessed bed looks more like a coffin, Lee thinks as he kneels down beside it. He slides his hands along the edges of the glass until he’s able to get a handle on it. He pushes back, and inch by inch it recedes until he can clearly see Bravo, lying on her side, knees curled up to her chest. The white cotton of her nightgown seems to glow in the dim light and makes her look like some kind of angel.
She looks so damned peaceful like that, and it makes his heart ache. If time wasn’t of the absolute essence he could have just watched her like that for hours. Instead, Lee reaches out, brushing his hand across her cheek and watches as her eyes flutter open.
“It’s not morning.” Her brow crinkles in confusion.
“No.” He shakes his head. “It’s not. But we have to go.”
She slowly sits herself up. “I’m supposed to sleep at night.”
“Bravo,” he breathes her name like a prayer as he reaches for her hand. “Do you trust me?” There’s something about using that first imprint to get her to come with him that makes him slightly sick to his stomach, but there’s no time to try to convince her. Even though Paul assured him the security feed would be cut, but with the Rossum suits still loitering he doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
She rises to her feet, clutching his hand as she steps out of the coffin. “With my life,” she echoes.
“Hey there, man friend.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Topher just grins more at Boyd’s irritation. “What can I do for you?”
“The security feeds went down about five minutes ago, I need someone to take a look at it.”
“Not my job,” he says with a noncommittal shrug.
“Can you not be a pain in my ass for just one night?”
Topher has nothing better to do. The two men leave the office thirty seconds before Lee sneaks in.
“Four minutes, thirty-three seconds.” Paul says as he checks his watch. “That’s a lot of time for us to get caught. I can’t believe he forgot the wedge.”
“When it was just the two of us we didn’t need the wedge, we didn’t take into account needing to put someone’s mind back.” Echo twists around to look at Bravo. She’s sitting in the back seat of the black sedan with her head leaning against the window.
“Four minutes, nineteen seconds. What do we do if he doesn’t make it back?”
“We do what he says; we get Bravo out of here.”
“And without the wedge? Without her memories?”
She hesitates. “We’ll figure something out.”
“Three minutes, forty-eight seconds.”
Nothing like another human to botch up a good escape. It’s the only thing he could think when the gunshot rang out.
In the split second that the white hot pain shot through his arm, Lee lost his grip on the wedge and the case of plastic and metal with Bravo’s memories, her life
, fell from his hand and shattered at his feet. He’d failed her, totally, utterly, and completely and that became his only focus.
Not the pain, not the way the Rossum thugs grabbed him and pinned his arms behind his back, not the cacophony of voices in the doorway. He only barely heard the Rossum executive say the words “the Attic.”
For all the times he’d seen that chair being used, Lee had never been in it. Now he is, struggling against his restraints as if it mattered. If Paul and Echo listened to him, they are gone by now and have taken Bravo with them and he clings to that hope the best he can. Soon that will just be another hazy memory in the periphery of his mind. He’s heard the horror stories. It isn’t the blissful blank slate of the actives; it’s having everything on the tip of your tongue, knowing there is a life to remember but unable to recall any of it.
A slow death by madness.
The pain and the panic coursing through his veins demand his attention, but he fights to stay focused for as long as he still can, even when he feels his grip on his memories failing, life going blank within his mind.
The last memory. It’s not the clearest memory, but it takes him over nonetheless.
He’s standing in a field with Bravo. No, it’s not Bravo… but it’s her (Amy? No, that’s not right, he knows…somehow)
and the sun seems to be shining just on her. Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Lee.
Her voice sounds broken.
And then she’s gone.
” Lee screams.
And he’s gone, too.
---End Part 1---